Breaking down the Steelers fourth quarter woes in 2012

Gregory Shamus

Losing five games by three points seems unheard of, particularly in Pittsburgh, but that stat is the glaring black eye on the Steelers' disappointing 2012 season.

"Undisciplined" is a fair adjective to use when describing the Steelers' performances in several close losses in 2012. Discipline can be the bucket in which conditioning, ball security and decision-making can be held.

Tribune Review reporter Alan Robinson stretches out the legs of Steelers fans, and emphasizes conditioning in a recent feature. He uses word-of-mouth evidence from players to ascertain Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has emphasized conditioning quite a bit throughout spring practices.

Imagine what could have been last season if a bit more discipline was applied.

According to Robinson, six of their 16 lost fumbles (a huge amount, incidentally) came in the final 15 minutes of games. Six of their 14 interceptions were in the fourth quarter. That's 12 of their 26 turnovers, or 46 percent.

Not that further explanation was needed behind the reasons the team lost five games in 2012 by three points. But add in the fact opponents threw five of their combined 19 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, and that opponents threw 12 touchdowns and one interception when the Steelers were leading, you're shaking your head in frustration.

If the issue was conditioning, it won't be any more. Writes Robinson, "Apparently as a result, players said Tomlin has emphasized the necessity of being a more disciplined team that controls the ball, the clock and the lead in the fourth quarter. That's where conditioning partly comes in because tired teams often are mistake-prone teams."

Late interceptions against Cincinnati and Dallas led to last-second field goals and two big late season "Ls" in the record book. A slew of fumbles against Cleveland lost an otherwise winnable game. Poor fourth quarter defense contributed to losses against Tennessee and Oakland.

Incidentally, of those five losses, only one game against a playoff team (Cincinnati, who failed to win a playoff game).

They scored 10 fourth quarter points and got an interception against the Titans but still managed to lose. They turned the ball over and gave up 13 fourth quarter points against Oakland. Two turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Cowboys.

It's enough to wonder if Tomlin didn't make them all run five laps around the field at the end of the season just out of frustration.

Whether he's going to run them into the St. Vincent-owned ground come late July or not (seems like a favorable scenario), it marks the difference between a successful team and a .500 team.

The numbers may not be the direct result of a lack of conditioning, the general umbrella of discipline covers all sins of that ilk. That umbrella clearly was not big enough last year.

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